“Learning to Photograph – Volume 2 Visual Concepts and Composition” By Cora Banek and Georg Banek; Rocky Nook

Right up front I want to say this is the best photography book I have seen for actually helping you to understand how to take a good picture! Thoroughly recommended.

I’m a keen photographer and although I have created images I’m very pleased with, I often find the image doesn’t come out the way I had hoped despite having many photography books and having done courses. These all tend to have a focus on the technical side of photography but lack assistance on the creative side. The best help I have had in the past has been criticism and advice from a professional photographer. This book is even better! There is so much helpful information that is backed up by well explained theory about what different effects have to people’s perception of an image, and how doing different things will change the effect of the image. The book encourages you to embrace and develop your own personal style by telling you if you do this you will have a calming image, but change it in this way for a dynamic image. It encourages you to see more and think more when you compose your pictures whilst provide a much greater understanding as to how to get the shot you want, and why a shot may not have worked as you hoped.

This book doesn’t give you a list of ‘rules’ for designing images, but provides you with a wealth of explanation on how people perceive images, how different design elements come together to make a successful image, and different techniques and tips for how to utilise these different elements effectively for yourself. The book is very easy to read, but also packed full of interesting material and excellent advice. Each chapter has many photographs and diagrams to illustrate points about the theory and effects that are discussed in the text, making it very clear and easy to see what the authors mean and how this might apply to your own work.

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the topic of image design, and the various factors that influence both what we choose to take photos of, the way that we perceive images, the design process, and how image design can be used to provoke different feelings and messages in others. Chapter 2 discusses the elements of composition, choosing what to include in the image, how to arrange them, the choice of frame, and changing perspective,  field sizes, cropping, and visual elements. This chapter provides very interesting descriptions of the effects that these different elements have on our perception of an image. Common ‘rules’ of photography that you may have heard of such as the ‘golden ratio’ and the use of grids are also discussed.

Chapter 3 covers how the shapes, orientations, and positions of different elements in an image affect the feel and perception of the image including discussions on points, lines, structures and the shapes of different objects. Chapter 4 discusses topics such as positioning, stand point and point of view, and perspective. There is a technical discussion about lenses  and additionally considerations for digital camera users. Chapter 5 discusses the essential topic of light to photography, including information about different types of natural and artificial light, the effects of the direction that the light comes from and how to get the best out of different conditions, how to work effectively with shadows including how to overcome problems of lack of detail, and managing light.

Chapter 6 provides an introduction to colours, how they work and the emotions that they evoke in people. Topics such as colour brightness, tones,  saturation, high key and low key,  colour combinations, special colours, contrasts and black and white imaging are discussed in detail. The chapter concludes with tips for using colour as a subject in images. Chapter 7 discusses how to use sharpness and blur in images, including the use of focus, depth of field, and topics related to capturing or avoiding movement such as shutter speeds, intentional and motion blur, panning, and image sequences.  Chapter 8 brings the techniques and ideas from the previous chapters together by looking at the overall effect with guidance on combining multiple design elements together and how the presentation of the image can affect the viewer’s perceptions. Tips are also given on how to develop your image design skills through practice and focusing on different elements.

The final chapter provides guidance on how to constructively analyses and evaluate images. As well as helping you to analyse your own photographs these tips can help you to appreciate the works of others and distill the elements that make an image successful that you can include in your own work and personal style, examples of image analyses are provided that effectively demonstrate the process. Tips are also given on how to handle criticism of your own work and how to be constructive in your criticism of others. Examples of common image design mistakes are also provided.

Thoroughly recommended. I expect to return to this book again and again for advice and inspiration.

For more information, see the O’Reilly product page.

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